According to my mother, whom I have full faith and credit, the depression was different for Black folks (Negroes was the operative word then) than for White folks. This was particularly true for Black men. My grandmother would go to the corner in the open air market with other Black women and compete for a day job to clean the house of a White woman. If selected my grandmother was worked hard for 10-12 hours for only a few dollars. In several instances the White woman would insist my mother have something to eat and would later deduct the food from my grandmother's wages. Eventually, my grandmother was hired as a permanent domestic by a wealthy family. A job my grandmother kept well into her 70"s When my mother was an adult and married my grandmother told my mother stories about Black women who were taken to a home to clean and returned to the open air market later without being paid. She also told my mother as an adult of several Black women being sexually assaulted by an adult male in the home. In both such instances no reports were made to the police for obvious reasons. Little changed for Blacks with Present Roosevelt New Deal and Civilian Conversation Corps. Such jobs primilary went to the White communities. When I watch the video movie on the building of the lodge on Mt. Hood and workers in Government Camp, I see no Black faces, only White.
If you do not already know the photographs of Gordon Parks, I highly recommend them to you. He was the first and only Black photographer to work for the Farm Security Administration, and he later went on to a brilliant career. In 1942 he made an extended portrait of Ella Watson, "US government charwoman," at work and in her home. Some of these photographs and the story behind them are on the Library of Congress Web site: [url] http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/fsahtml/fachap07.html [/url]. Parks was interviewed in the 1960s about how he got his start during the Depression: he tells his story at [url] http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/parks64.htm [/url]. Among the photographers working for the FSA, Dorothea Lange took more photographs of Black folks than any other FSA photographer, with the exception of Parks. Her photographs, and the long captions that accompany them, give a picture of both the similarities and the differences faced by Black and White farmers in the South (see, for example, the stories and photographs in my book, [i]Daring to Look [/i] on sharecroppers and tenant farmers in North Carolina).
Thank You. I am on it. I knew about Gordon Parks and his career but not Dorothea Lange. Again, Thanks
Not my own memories -- and this may be too late for show prep -- but I came across a little book called "Voices of Portland" a while back. Published in 1976 by the Neighborhood History Project, it has edited interviews from Portland residents discussing Portland (usually first-hand) from the late 1890s to the (then) present, including some stories of the Depression. I've attached a text file with a couple paragraphs from the book.
It's a quick read (only 90 pages) and really has some interesting information about the Depression and other eras, and how they affected Portland.
Thanks for the attachment. Here are the paragraphs in case other folks don't want to have to download it:
"Things were rough for everybody," remembered Marcelle Holmes, of Multnomah. "I remember my dad walking to Portland with a jelly sandwich to look for work. Us kids went to school with cardboard in our shoes, to keep our feet dry. And there were parents deserting their children, because times were so bad. These two little girls came to school in rags; they came every day with a piece of stale bread and you could just watch them getting thinner and thinner. Finally, the teacher caught on that something was wrong, and that those two girls had been living alone for two months with no mother and father. The mother and father had deserted them, feeling they would be better off, because the County would take them and put them into a home where at least they would get something to eat."
"We used to pick up bags of flour out of the river," said Fred Nelson of Slabtown. "Loading ships you see, they had to pack the flour right down there in the hold of the ship; sometimes they were a little careless, didn't set the flour on the ship right, and it would fall in the river. And lots of times, you would pick up a sack of flour that was floating in the river, and the outer part would be all soggy, and of no value, but the inner part would be perfectly all right. Took it home, and used it for baking."
Glen Wardlaw is my Dad's younger brother. My Dad hitchhiked from Arkansas to Ontario, Oregon in 1935. From his reports back to his parents, they moved to the Ontario area in 1936.
My Dad farmed a place about a mile from his Dad's until 1946 when my Dad went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation as foreman of the maintance crew. In 1949 my Dad became Water Master for the north end of the Owyhee Irrigation project.
The Owyhee Irrigation project was built by the CCC's for the bureau of Reclamation. In 1949 the bureau turned the project over to the farmers on the project. The north end of the project provided water to approximately 200,000 acres of land. Without this water there would not be the farms which grow so much produce.
We lived at the old CCC camp which was just called the "camp". Several families who worked for the irrigation project lived at the camp. The camp was located about 4 miles north of Ontario. There was lots of land available for gardens. My family had a garden of about 1/2 acre in area. We grew most of the food we ate through out the year. We dug a large cellar in which we stored apples, potatoes, onions and other produce which would last.
We attended church at the Ontario Heights Friends Church, which is shown in several of Lange's photos.
Although I was born in 1941, which is post depression, how I was raised was greatly influenced by my parents experiences from the depression. Although we had plenty to eat, we were not allowed to waste any food. If it was on your plate you had to eat it. When you pealed potatoes you had better be able to see through the skins. We got most of our apples, potatoes and onions when we would go through a field after harvest and pick up all the produce which had been left behind during harvest.
Being raised on the Owhee Irrigation project I have lots of memories about what happened and the problems in getting the water to the farmers each year.
My family moved from Cove, Oregon to the Dead Ox Flats area near the Idaho border in 1960.
I remember that we lived on Ontario Heights at the end of Highline Road. We lived in a basement house, not much more that a big square hole in the ground with a flat, leaky roof. We had running water but no plumbing, so we used a five-gallon bucket under the sink to catch the dishwater and had an outhouse. To bathe one or twice a week, Mom heated water and dumped it into a galvanized tub; we all shared the water. After several years we moved to Pioneer Road where my dad worked as the "Ditch Company" Pump Plant Manager at the Dead Ox Pump Station until he retired. This wasn't the Depression, but when I look back on it I somethimes feel like we were pretty close to it. And yes, we walked a half a mile one way to the bus stop in the dead of winter (in dresses).
Peggy Lovelace Contreras
This is a very timely subject. Hopefully we can learn how to deal with the depression that is right around the corner...
My comment is regarding how the depression shaped where we live today. I grew up in the Oregon Coast Range and lived on a piece of property that was formerly a homestead. That property is one of four parcels in the area that were not reclaimed by the government during the depression.
When I was a child, my mom took us on hikes up into the woods on an old wagon road, crossing the creek seven times through meadows that had once been farms. All that remains of these properties is the orchards and occasional daffodils. The other thing that remains is a small pioneer cemetery -- with children who died in 1918, and generations of Brown's, Moore's, and Davenport's. There was a school and town in the area, and even telephone lines to the post-office and school. Most people that live in Lincoln County today don't know this history. Only five families live out on those four properties now, and all the rest are owned by the Federal Government. In a lot of areas in Oregon, the depression moved people off the land and into towns. I used to talk to Mae Chattfield, whose grandniece lives on her property out there now. Mae had attended the school and knew all about all the families that lived out there. One story that left a particular impression was that the house at the top of the hill (the Hilltop Brown's) had a ballroom that all the locals would travel to for merry parties and festivities. Today, the property is prime elk habitat.
Anne Spirn just gave us a provocative notion: that -- in some ways -- life during the Depression was better than it is now. She was talking specifically about families and farmers working together. What have we lost from the time that's normally thought of as desperate and destitute?
You touched on one very important difference bwteen 1929 and today. Back then, many urbanites still had family that were farming. Unless those farms were in the dust bowl region the people caught in the cities could come back home to those farms and at least eat. That is all finished now. Very few people own farms today. That means the unemployed in the cities are stuck there.
The other differnce: In 1929 the industries simply shut their doors. They did not sell those industries and their machinery to other countries. When things got better the machines and potential jobs were still there. Now they aren't.
My folks were fortunate. In the 1920s my dad and his older brother barn stormed in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado. My uncle flew the two seater and my dad went ahead and rented a landing field and put up the adverts. With the money my dad made he and my mom went to CA where I was born and in Long Beach out near signal Hill he bought what he called his 'honky tonk'.
It had a dance hall and live music two nights a week. It was as near depression proof as any business. He owned it until he went into the service in 1943, and by the time he was out again, the depression was mostly over. So I can't say my immediate family suffered, but I do remember hearing people talk about the WPA, welfare and the CCCs.
I harbor a dread that our country has been so badly mismanaged by the political class that soon most Americans will be in the soup again, just like two generations ago. But this time there is no family farm for refuge and the factory floors in those closed buildings no longer contain machinary just waiting to be started up.
My husband's parents grew up during the depression in Kansas. My father-in-law never knew his father as he died when he was an infant; leaving a widow with 5 kids. His mother's family had 7 kids and lost their farm. They worked really hard and became millionaires. But, you would never know it. They bought their house with cash. They don't pay for any heat now, they use a wood stove with wood they have scavenged. And it gets pretty cold in Kansas in the winter. My father-in-law saves his shower water in a bucket and flushes the toilet once a day with that water. He dumpster dives daily and has an agreement with the gas station on the corner to get their expired vending maching sandwiches for their meals. They will eat out but only at Long John Silver's with coupons and share a meal. They seem happy though.
I am too young to have lived through the Depression but my parents were deeply affected by that time. Dad lived on an apple ranch around Omak Washington in the Okanogon Valley. They had been moderately prosperous prior to the Depression but the failure of the markets for transportable food stuffs such as apples caused them to live for a number of years on the farm with no income. The year the apples rotted in piles in the orchard because there was no way to get them to market and no one was buying them even if they could be gotten to the stores, was a story Dad often told. Dad's stories of the hunger and fear that came with loosing the family farm to the apple packing house from whom they had borrowed money against the next crop, left a big impression on his children.
In sharp contrast to that story, my mother's parents worked for the Bureau of Reclamation on the big water projects that changed the shape of the West. Grampa worked on the Hoover dam, the Salton Sea & All American Canal and Grand Coulee water projects that spanned the Depression and World War II, from Yuma AZ to Ephrata WA. They were by comparison, a well to do family in terms of money but the living accomodations were often rough and hard to come by and being treated as transients by the locals also informed their sense of isolation from the communities that they lived in. As a child I played with the left over ration coupons and helped my grandmother can fruits and vegetables as a hedge against hunger. That deep need to hoard food against a possible future need was a deep and abiding tenent of both sets of grandparents.
Thanks for letting us share our stories.
Thank you for recording this history before the stories disappear as people who know them pass on. Albert Ralph Cammack and Ruth (Myers) Cammack, who were so much a part of the history of the Ontario area, have passed on now. Ralph Lindley Cammack, Albert's son, must now carry on much of that story to younger generations. Thanks again for getting some of the story recorded.
Thank you for your comments! I'm Rachel Baker Reinertsen, I contacted Kathryn Kirkland and told her I was in those pictures on the Friends Church at Ontario Heights. My Daddy was Ed Baker.
I've contacted the "Free" family, today I will visit Elson & Arlene Free and give them one of the PSW Fall 2009 Magazine that has the Dorothy Lange photo's.
I was wondering how to contact the Cammack's. I'm glad Mr.Myers did. I remember Margaret! She's in the picture too!
This has all been very interesting to me. I was very young but I do remember some things.
Thanks again for all this interesting reading!
Rachel Baker Reinertsen
"My father-in-law saves his shower water in a bucket and flushes the toilet once a day with that water."
oh mine, that's filthy!!!
Oh my...I can only image how bad the great depression was...fortunately I was not a part of it :)
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Thank you for this nice post
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The great depression was indeed a very dark time in our life. My family also experienced it and it involves very sad stiry. I wish the pain my family felt that time will all go away.
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